I guess you could say that bad horse training keeps good horse trainers in business. I know several trainers that earn their lively hood based entirely on re training poorly trained horses. The job of re training a horse can be much trickier than doing it right the first time. The process entails spending a great deal of time regaining trust and unlearning bad habits. However, bad training is not always the root of the problem. When someone takes a green horse to a trainer and expects to get back a finished horse in 30 or even 60 days they are setting the horse up for failure, and encouraging the trainer to take shortcuts.
I'm not implying that I have never or would never back a horse in that time. In 30 to 60 days I can give you back a horse that rides, and if the horse is nice enough and your not a competitive rider you might just get by. However, laying a solid foundation, or training horses to carry themselves, to collect or to perform well at a competitive level typically takes the average horse around 18 months.
Taking Short cuts in training horses is a bit like dieting. There are plenty of ways to lose weight. You may even lose a lot of weight fast. Unfortunately, as many of us learn the hard way there is no magic pill or exercise free way to get in shape, and just because your thinner doesn't necessarily mean your healthy and It certainly doesn't mean its going to last.
Every now and then I get the opportunity to work with a young green horse. A clean slate with an open mind. They have no reason to be fearful of people and no real damage to undo. Such is the case with my latest training project, a three year old Morgan named "Tucker" He is full of youthful exuberance and curiosity. He is eager to work and will do just about anything to hear the words good boy. He is one of those horses with the rare combination of intelligence with great temperament. The best part about working with Tucker is that his owner is not in a big rush. She knows she has a really nice horse in her hands and wants to bring him along right, rather than right now.
That is the difference between breaking and training. I consider Breaking as a sort of one sided conversation. There is no real communication happening. The horse is asked to do something it can not understand and then made to go through a series of wrong answers and correction until it stumbles upon the right one. This often accompanies Force, restraint and correction until the horse finally gives in, gives up or submits. Breaking horses may condition them to perform certain tasks but there is no real learning going on. In fact the only thing actually being taught is what not to do. Most horses will learn to do the "correct" thing eventually if for no other reason then fear of punishment for guessing incorrectly.
The trainer I learned from used this analogy... "If you grab the handle of a hot pan, it doesn't take you long to realize your mistake. Your body reacts to the stimulus and you let go of the pan. You learned not to pick up a hot pan but since you didn't really have time to process all your options, your learning isn't very complete. Just like the horse getting "gentled", you got a negative education. You learned what not to do, what to be afraid to do. If you had had the time to process the situation, you might have gotten a more positive education and learned the way to pick up a hot pan so you wouldn't get burned"
Tucker has been in training for a couple months. With the exception of some time off for his disagreement with a metal gate, and a few snow days he has been worked an average of four days a week. While many trainers would tell you that he should be backed and well on his way by now, Tucker has yet to see a saddle. He is making great progress and eagerly awaits his training sessions, actually running over to me when he sees me enter the paddock with his halter and lunge line. There are no treat rewards he just knows its his turn to play in the arena.
This past weekend I gave his owner a demonstration of all we have been working on in the time he has been in training. She was elated to see his progress. For the first time she watched her young horse paying undivided attention to his handler, patiently awaiting then performing every request on command from changing direction, backing up, transitioning between walk, trot and halt with and without a lead line, then doing the same while on a lunge line. He has now accepted the bridle and surcingle and will hopefully be fully tacked up by weeks end. He has established a great trust and gained much confidence all while developing the muscle and balance necessary to make a smooth transition into work under saddle.
I realize that training can be very expensive. I'm not suggesting that its necessary to spend thousands of dollars nor am I implying that you need to send your horse to a trainer for two years. I do suggest that you set realistic training goals for your horse. Its also important to educate yourself as much as possible about the techniques your trainer uses. I am constantly amazed at how many owners want to simply drop the horse off to be "fixed" or trained and have no desire to learn how to maintain what they paid for. Every time you interact with your horse you are training him whether you realize it or not. Ask your trainer questions, take lessons, learn how to continue the work your trainer began. There is no secret short cut to turn green into great overnight. That is the beauty and the challenge of working with horses, no matter how many horses you've worked with there will always be more to learn.